Accusations on Detention of Ex-Singer
Published: September 23, 2004  (must register to view original article)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - United Airlines and the Department of Homeland Security blamed each other Wednesday because a passenger, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, was allowed on a London-to-Washington flight on Tuesday even though his name is on a terrorism watch list.

The government ordered the plane to be diverted to Bangor, Me., where the passenger, now known as Yusuf Islam, was detained.

The plane, a Boeing 747, was carrying 248 other passengers and spent about four and a half hours on the ground at Bangor, where Mr. Islam, a British subject whom United States officials say has donated money to groups suspected of terrorism, was questioned. He was later brought to Washington and was scheduled to be put on a flight back to London. Mr. Islam was traveling with an adult daughter, who was allowed to stay in this country.

Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, told reporters on Wednesday that the problem originated with an error by United Airlines in letting Mr. Islam board. Agence France-Presse quoted Mr. Ridge as saying, "Unfortunately, United Airlines had the information and they didn't act on it before he got on the airplane.''

A spokesman for Mr. Ridge, Brian Roehrkasse, who was present with when Mr. Ridge made the statement, confirmed that Mr. Ridge had said that the department had given the watch list to United and that "United had the ability to act on the information but didn't.''

But at United, Jeff Green, a spokesman, said in a telephone interview, "That is not necessarily a very fair assessment on Secretary Ridge's part.''

Mr. Green said that information provided by the Department of Homeland Security did not match that supplied by Mr. Islam. "The system did not flag him as a no-fly passenger,'' Mr. Green said.

He did not elaborate, but airline experts say the watch list contains more than just names and can include passport numbers and other personal information. The search for matches between passenger and watch list data is done by computer. Mr. Islam had last traveled to the United States in May; it was not clear when he was added to the list.